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Video clip synopsis – In 1912, Mawson's expedition arrived in the Antarctic. Little did they realise it was the windiest place on the globe.
Year of production - 1912
Duration - 2min 10sec
Tags - Antarctica, Australian History, environment, exploration, pioneers, sustainability, see all tags


Mawson's Expedition to the Antarctic

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About the Video Clip


Mawson’s Expedition to the Antarctic is an excerpt from the film Antarctic Pioneers (30mins), produced in 1962.

Antarctic Pioneers: One of Australia’s most famous photographers and explorers, Frank Hurley, narrates this absorbing film on the history of Australia’s first expeditions to the Antarctic continent between 1911 and 1954. It includes remarkable, original footage of the expedition on the tall ship Aurora in 1911, the Campbell expedition in 1947 and the Law expedition in 1954.

Much of this film was made by Hurley when he accompanied Sir Douglas Mawson and an Australian party to the Antarctic in 1912, and on later expeditions. The program traces the history of the Australian expeditions between 1911 and 1914 and the establishment of Mawson Station. A rare film which reveals the true hardship and courage of these early pioneers.

Antarctic Pioneers was produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit with the co-operation of The Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition.

Curriculum Focus


Inquiry question:
How has a significant person, group or event helped to shape the modern world?

Students can investigate the motivations and contribution of Douglas Mawson and the pioneers of Antarctic research.

Throughout this topic, students work towards all outcomes, with particular focus on those listed below.
A student:
4.1 describes and explains the nature of history, the main features of past societies and periods and their legacy
4.5 identifies the meaning, purpose and context of historical sources
4.7 identifies different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past
4.8 locates, selects and organises relevant information from a number of sources, including ICT, to conduct basic historical research.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


There are 26 nations that claim parts of Antarctica as their territory. Australia is the largest, claiming 42 per cent of the total area.

In 1911 Douglas Mawson led the first Australian expedition to Antarctica. His aim was to map and explore the coastal area of Antarctica closest to Australia. Mawson selected his team and in the ship Aurora they sailed through 1500 kilometres of pack ice to the Antarctic coast.

In spring 1912, several parties of explorers set out on foot from their camp.
Mawson led the team comprising Swiss scientist Dr Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis. A team of greenland huskies pulled their sleds.

Mawson’s party travelled east for over a thousand kilometres mapping the coastline, collecting geological samples and discovering huge glaciers.

Fighting appalling weather and poor light, the trio had to drag themselves and their supplies around crevasses and slippery, ice-covered rock. Five weeks into the journey Ninnis disappeared down a deep crevasse along with a team of dogs and the sled carrying most of their food. Mawson and Mertz had to turn back and, in order to survive, they were forced to shoot and eat the remaining huskies.

Mertz became sick and increasingly weak from the toxic levels of vitamin A in the dogs’ livers, and he too died. Mawson was near death – his feet were bloody, his skin was falling away and he had lost a lot of weight.

Classroom Activities

  1. What is the overall image of the Antarctic environment that you get from the video clip?
    (Consider why you have that impression or image — is it because of the narration? Or the visual images? Or the sound effects in the video clip? Or some other reason?)
  2. What were some of the hardships faced by Mawson and other Antarctic explorers?
  3. Why is it that Mawson is remembered as a significant person – who has had an impact on shaping our modern world?
  4. The video clip was originally made as a film in 1962 from 1912 footage. Do you think a modern video about the environment would focus on the same images, or might it reflect different attitudes and values? Explain your reasons.

Further Resources


Go to
Australian Government Antarctic Division